January 2015 Heli Crash – Poaching Again in Kosh-Agach District?

First published: http://listock.ru/39049
Republished: http://altapress.ru/story/150976

“Version: Passengers on the crashed Robinson R66 helicopter planned to hunt for wolves”

28 January 2015
Translation by Jennifer Castner

The crash of the Robinson R66 helicopter 57 km south of the villege of Tobeler in Kosh-Agach District has revived an old conflict. The internet is overflowing with different versions of the story about yet another set of passengers planning to organize a hunt in a hard to reach part of the Republic.Altai argali sheep skulls (photo by J. Gibbs)

The Federal Press news agency wrote that public figure Akai Kine set a reward for reliable information on poaching activity related to the flight, and proposed, as a preventive measure, that a broad moratorium on hunting be declared throughout Altai Republic.

The leadership of Sailyugem National Park, whose employee was found on board the Robinson R66, did not deny that the passengers intended to hunt. However, according to their version, the plan was to hunt for wolves, which in recent times have been actively terrorizing herding camps.

On January 20, the Robinson R66 helicopter crashed in Kosh-Agach District. According to information from the Western Siberian Bureau of Criminal Investigations for Transportation of the Federal Investigative Committee, the cause of the accident was a loss of engine power. An Mi-8 helicopter belonging to the Forestry Protection Service was sent to the crash site, but no assistance was required as all passengers on board were not only uninjured but were able to independently reach the main road and then hail transportation to the regional center. Apparently, the pilot and passengers were able to quit the cabin in time, before it caught fire.

The incident has concerned the local community in earnest, when they learned some of the facts about the flight’s route and the passengers’ identities. It was learned that the aircraft took off from the village of Kuzedeevo in the Kuzbass. On board was the vehicle’s owner – businessman Aleksandr Govor, a member of the board of directors of NefteKhimServis (an investor in the construction of the oil processing plant in Yaisky District, Kemerovo Oblast) and one of the founders of the publicly-held Inrusinvest. This information stirred up old conversations about rich businessmen who often use poaching techniques while hunting in Kosh-Agach District. Specifically, they often hunt animals from helicopters, an activity forbidden by law.

The case was immediately enhanced by a variety of rumors. One internet version claimed that the helicopter had been strafed by gunfire from local herders. The story was given further seasoning by news that one of the passengers was Valery Orgunov, a ranger-inspector at Sailyugem National Park. Residents of Altai well remember the events of six years ago, when, as a result of the crash of a Mi-171 helicopter, seven people were killed, including Aleksandr Kosopkin, the President’s envoy in the Federal Duma, and Viktor Kaimin, chair of the local Game Management Committee.

On behalf of the Kin Altai Spiritual Center of the Turks, public figure Akai Kine submitted an appeal to the Republic’s administration and parliament in which he proposed a complete moratorium on hunting and private flights over the Republic. Several days later he offered a 50,000 ruble reward for information documenting the possibility of poaching. Positioning himself as zaisan of the Teles clan, Akai Kine recalled that “the spirit of Altai can punish anyone who hunts in sacred places or for sacred animals, as happened with the Mi-171 helicopter in 2009, whose passengers shot argali sheep to death”.

The tale of poaching was categorically denied at Sailyugem National Park. Assistant Director for Environmental Education Olesya Malyukova commented that as an experienced hunter, Valery Orgunov was to serve in the role of guide for the helicopter’s passengers, who planned to hunt wolves. (Recently, wolves have begun to pose a serious problem for Kosh-Agach District.) There have been repeated calls to reduce this predator’s population during recent parliamentary sessions.

Olesya Malyukova, Assistant Director for Environmental Education at Sailyugem National Park:

Attempts to organized land-based wolf hunts were not fruitful due to the lack of snow cover to show the animals’ tracks; the only effective means of tracking wolves is by helicopter, however, government agencies do not have sufficient funding to conduct aerial tracking. For this reason, the decision was made to appeal to a private citizen who, after receiving the proper permissions for wolf-hunting, flew in on his helicopter and made plans to combine the pleasant with the useful –hunting and helping to control the wolf population.

She went on to emphasize that there were no plans to hunt the wolves from aboard the helicopter. All hunting was to take place on lands adjacent to the national park, and park ranger Valery Orgunov was well informed about the precise borders of the protected area.

Editor in Chief of RIA-Novosti Altai, Amyr Aitashev:

Prior to evaluating the events that have taken place, it is important to recall that the owner of the destroyed helicopter is Kuzbass millionaire Aleksandr Govor and that this is not his first time in a helicopter over Altai. In 2011 in Turochaksky District (immediately adjacent to the Kuzbass), local residents documented helicopter hunting from a helicopter with the identification number of 7171 that killed a roe deer and a female moose. The Altai Republic Prosecutors Office conducted an investigation, but the outcome of that investigation is unknown.

I was able to confirm that a MacDonnell-Douglas helicopter marked RA-07151 belonged to Kustard RUS, the real owner of which is Aleksandr Govor. The Robinson helicopter that crashed this year belongs to Kustardб and Govor himself was aboard at the time of the crash. As Forbes magazine wrote, in 2010, Govor bought the helicopter and flew on it to his villa on the shores of a lake in Altai Republic. It was also confirmed that his personal gamekeeper and guide in Altai, and also the landholder for Govor’s lake is Aleksandr Chaika, the current director of Sailyugem National Park. SNP ranger Valery Orgunov was also on board the destroyed helicopter.

Given these facts, it is difficult to believe the explanations provided by the park’s administration that Mr. Govor was flying at the request of Kosh-Agach District livestock farmers with the goal of destroying wolves. Generally speaking, the topic of wolves is speculative. Last year in Kosh-Agach District over 600 licenses were handed out to shoot wolves despite the assessment of biologists that there are no more than one hundred wolves in the entire district. Prior to this, this degree of permitted wolf killing has never taken place. This is being done in order that armed people can have the opportunity to be out in nature with firearms practically all year round. In other words, the government’s actions are directly aimed at indulging poachers.

 Aleksandr Berdnikov relieved Grigory Dolgikh of his job as chair of the Republic’s Committee for the Protection and Management of Animals in September 2014. Native Altaian Aidar Oynoshev, a hunting inspector with many years of experience, was appointed as interim chair in his place. However, at the year’s end, the federal Ministry of Natural Resources refused to affirm his appointment, and Yury Mikhailov was appointed Committee Chair instead. (Berdnikov personally appoints all government ministers and committee chairs.) It can be assumed that this will not be the last poacher’s helicopter to fall from the sky, as helicopter poaching presumes difficult flying maneuvers in mountainous conditions, and small helicopter pilot-hobbyists that acquired their licenses in the greater Moscow area generally do not have the necessary skills.